Shadow Of Graft

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Narendra Modi has held true to one promise: “na khayenge na khane denge”. But in the BJP ruled states, the stench of corruption is unmistakable whether in Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra BY VIJAY NAIK

During Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time, visitors to the BJP office on Ashok Road would recall the sign board with his face on it and emblazoned below the words “Zero Tolerance to Corruption.” It was later installed in the hall where press briefings were held but evidently not for long. When party president Bangaru Laxman was caught in a sting operation accepting a lakh of rupees in cash, he was out as was the sign board. The 2004 elections confirmed that the Vajpayee government had lost its sheen, losing spectacularly to the Congress.

That bit of history bears relevance given that in the two years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP claims there has not been a single corruption scandal to tar its image. Strictly speaking, that’s not accurate.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje (and Sushma Swaraj) has been attacked for, it is alleged, showing ‘undue favour’ to the former IPL chief Lalit Modi against whom there is an Interpol Red Corner notice in connection with a money laundering case. Curiously, the case has not progressed far with the Congress accusing NDA of trying to bury the scandal by insisting that Modi’s extradition was ‘not possible.’

There are also reports hinting at the involvement of high level BJP ministers in Vijay Mallya’s flight from India to the UK despite owing local banks Rs. 9000 crores. The flamboyant Mallya is now a regular on the social circuit in London. Then there’s the Vyapam scandal in Madhya Pradesh where Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s name has figured.

But it’s Maharashtra which could be in the eye of the gathering storm. Revenue minister Eknath Khadse, who held an incredible ten portfolios, had to quit following allegations of corruption in a land deal in Pune. Khadse was in the race with Devendra Fadnavis for the chief minister’s chair but came off second best after being snubbed by party president Amit Shah. His resignation may have come as a relief for Fadnavis but the angry Khadse has threatened “to reveal secrets” that he claims will “shake the country”. That he hasn’t so far is in keeping with the habits of most netas who, in the hope of a helping hand from the party, prefer to not burn their boats. But Khadse’s case is complicated by accusations of links with India’s most wanted gangster Dawood Ibrahim.

Revenue minister Eknath Khadse, who held an incredible ten portfolios, had to quit following allegations of corruption in a land deal in Pune. Khadse was in the race with Devendra Fadnavis for the chief minister’s chair

For a party that flaunts its nationalist credentials, this is deadly, it’s akin to sleeping with the enemy. The state Anti Corruption Bureau has also found proof that Khadse’s close associate Gajanan Patil, demanded bribe of Rs.30 crore in a land allotment case.

Chief Minister Fadnavis has handed over a voluminous report on his activities to the prime minister and Shah, but Khadse is fighting back, forcefully urging his backers in the party to take out his detractors and “punish them.”

With the internal feud out in the open, there are some concerns that a desperate Khadse could defy the party bosses in Delhi and insist that is senior status in the state party unit be respected. There’s even speculation he could join hands with the Shiv Sena to checkmate Fadnavis. Sources close to him said his actions would depend on how the cases went against him. For now Modi and Shah have preferred to play tough: Shah has come out against him while Modi refused to give him an appointment when he was in Delhi some time back. But Khadse is not the pary’s only embarrassment. Last year, Education Minister Vinod Tawde came under a cloud after the opposition alleged his engineering degree was fake. Tawde rubbished the charges and stayed on (was recently divested of the medical education portfolio).

As if that was not enough, Fadnavis is under fire for presiding over the urban development ministry where a Shiv Sena minister of state Ravindra Waikar, faces allegation of impropriety and conflict of interest in a Pune land deal. The Congress moved in quickly to stoke the fires, state party chief Sanjay Nirupam handing over documents that he claimed proved Waikar was land grabbing.

Coming on top of Khadse’s alleged shenanighans, the charge is sensitive and could severely dent the BJP’s image. It is known that both the prime minister and Amit Shah are unhappy with the Shiv Sena, yet are unable to decide on ending the alliance.

So the Sena never seems to lose an opportunity to bait the BJP: Before the Waikar allegations broke, Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said the BJP government at the Centre and the state was “worse than the government of the Nizam of Hyderabad.’’ He had also hinted at widespread corruption in the state, warning that there were many ‘’bubbles’’ which he could burst.

Fadanvis has now stepped into the ring, promising the saffron flock that he intended to expose rampant corruption in the Congress and the NCP of Sharad Pawar. It maybe easier to beat the Congress, taking on the NCP could be risky since Pawar is a powerful power centre in Maharashtra. For that reason, any action against Pawar’s nephew Ajit could also have consequences. In politics, it’s important to weigh the impact of one’s action even on an issue like corruption.

Summary

  • No corruption scandals at the Centre in Narendra Modi’s two years but in the BJP ruled states it’s a different story
  • From Vasundhara Raje in Jaipur to Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, there are corruption allegations galore
  • The BJP is aware that failure to stand against corruption could cost votes but there are political considerations
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